By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
Groff, the bills' sponsor, doesn't deny that. At the time he proposed the bill, he says, "I don't think I made the next step of once this is enforced, once somebody is arrested, how difficult would it be? I didn't know what would happen once implementation rolled out. I didn't think that far."
On the day of Jose Chacón-Posada's scheduled trial, his attorney tried to convince a judge that the depositions of the ten passengers should be thrown out. He called them "an affront to our justice system" and said the fact that he was given only twelve hours to prepare was a violation of Chacón-Posada's right to due process.
State prosecutor Patrick Cahill argued the opposite.
Judge Douglas Tallman seemed confused. "It seems to me," Tallman said, "that there's got to be a mechanism to allow the state to have these witnesses available at least for a time in these circumstances if they want to prosecute these kind of cases."
He added, "I think the legislature needs to look at this a little more closely and make some different accommodation for handling these types of matters, given the urgency...of the way things happen in the immigration world."
Tallman didn't rule right away, and the trial began. In his opening statements, defense attorney Ward told the jurors that his client was a simple bus driver, not a coyote. "He was driving along a highway in this jurisdiction with a van full of individuals no different than anyone driving a van for Greyhound, flying a plane or driving a taxi," he said. As far as Chacón-Posada knew, Ward said, the van company was legitimate.
"Mr. Chacón-Posada is not required by law to look at the immigration status of every person in his van," Ward continued. "Sure, there are a lot of brown people speaking Spanish in his van, but that's not his requirement — no more than a Greyhound bus driver — to check the papers and the passports."
After the opening statements, Trooper Nall took the stand followed by Trooper Williams. Both described their involvement in the case. On cross-examination, Ward quizzed Williams about a trip manifest that listed Chacón-Posada as a driver and the front-seat passenger, America Washington, as the "second driver."
"In your entire interview with Mr. Chacón-Posada, you never asked any questions about Ms. Washington, is that correct?" Ward asked Williams.
"That's correct," Williams said.
After Williams testified, the judge dismissed the jury for a two-hour lunch break in order to rule on the question of the depositions. He ended up throwing them out. "The court finds that the defendant's rights had been violated," Tallman said.
Tallman's ruling made the trial much shorter, and both attorneys gave closing statements the next morning. Cahill asked jurors to consider the credibility of the officers who arrested Chacón-Posada. "I would ask you to consider whether you believe there is any reason that they would have invented this, made this up," he said.
Ward, meanwhile, tried to differentiate between the stereotype of human smuggling and the details of Chacón-Posada's case. He also hinted that racism and illegal-immigration hysteria may have played a role in his client's arrest. "America Washington, who is African-American, the only non-Hispanic in this operation, who is listed as a driver on the trip manifest, is let go," he said. "Does that seem odd to you?"
The jury took seven hours to return a verdict. At 5:30 p.m. on November 26, 2008, exactly a year after Chacón-Posada was arrested, the jury found him not guilty of human smuggling. They did, however, convict him of speeding and driving without a license. The judge sentenced him to a few months in jail but gave him credit for the time he'd already served, which meant he was released on the spot.
He was free, but he was also stranded. The cops had confiscated the $497 he was carrying when he was arrested, making it impossible for him to buy a ticket home to Texas. So Ward drove Chacón-Posada to his home in Denver that night and put him up in his spare room. The next day, he bought him a one-way plane ticket home.
Later that evening, Chacón-Posada called Ward's cell phone. He was "almost in tears because he had surprised his daughter, who hadn't seen him for a year, " Ward says. "They had been telling the daughter that he was away on business. [When he came home], she kept telling him to pinch her arm because she thought he wasn't there."